Whereon to Stand – Review
Whereon to Stand: The Acts of the Apostles and Ourselves, by Daniel Berrigan S.J., originally published 1991, reissued April 2009. Wifp and Stock, ISBN 978-1606084687, 352 pages. RRP £29
This book may initially seem to have little relevance to Green Christian members. Written almost 40 years ago it contains almost nothing about the current developing climate and environmental catastrophe. I present it as essential on two counts. The first is the sheer aliveness of the Holy Spirit in the communities of the early Christians. The second is that Berrigan and his companions were open to the Spirit’s aliveness in opposing the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons by their country, the United States. Like the first Christians, they stood with the Justice of God when the powers of their time were in opposition to it. Substantial time in prayer and reflection ensured that their obedience was to God, not the State. Their methods were to follow Jesus’ way of non-violence and to accept the consequences. Berrigan spent almost seven years in prison because of actions against nuclear weapons and the war in Vietnam.
I am a Catholic whose formative years were in the 1940s and 50s. I received the sacrament of Confirmation from the Bishop in my early teens. That introduction to the Holy Spirit has since received almost no affirmation in formal church contexts. The number of homilies I have heard referring to the lived presence of the Spirit in our lives can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Personal testimony to the Spirit by bishops and priests has been even more rare. The gap between what is described in the Acts of the Apostles and current parish and diocesan life is huge.
Berrigan is generally restrained in his criticism of the US Church of his time but he becomes explicit in p. 125. “Our book of Acts might otherwise be entitled ‘The Book of Wonders’. It has taken wing, voyaged the centuries; and then alas, it has landed in an arid place: the Church of Few Wonders or None At All…. We are spiritually out of our depth …. our bishops and priests and popes generally frantic or half coping or plain misreading the signs.” I imagine that if he were alive now, he would thank God for Pope Francis who has stated clearly that the possession of nuclear weapons is immoral.
Berrigan and his companions took actions against corporations involved in the production of nuclear weapons. Their civil disobedience could be an inspiration to us too; the analogy for us is to challenge corporate fossil fuel extraction and those other corporations] which are destroying the environment. Berrigan would no doubt applaud these words of Francis: ‘‘Without the Spirit, Jesus remains a personage from the past; with the Spirit, he is a person alive in our own time. Without the Spirit, Scripture is a dead letter; with the Spirit it is a word of life. A Christianity without the Spirit is joyless moralism; with the Spirit, it is life.’’.
Readers may also be interested in Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings, selected and introduced by John Dear and published by Orbis Books, ISBN 9781570758379
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